What Are Totem Animals?

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totem pole animal
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Totem animals are very prominent in Native American traditions, and each holds significant spiritual meaning. Not only do totem animals act as our spiritual guides throughout our whole lives, but they provide a significant amount of self-discovery and unveil the meaning of our true self. 

What is a totem animal?

A totem animal is an animal spirit guide believed to stay with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. You have a special bond and connection with this animal through interest, characteristics, dreams, or other interactions.

An animal totem is a sacred object that is a symbolic representation of your animal guide. Your totem can be represented as a totem pole, talisman, emblem, statue, or jewelry.

Totem animals also play a pivotal role in understanding and interpreting events from our past that may have gone unnoticed. 

RELATED: Spiritual Animal List & Their Symbolic Meaning

You might be wondering how and why totem animals are meaningful to you, but to truly understand this spiritual practice, we must first uncover how totem animals have played a direct role in Native American life. 

How does a person get a totem? One thing you should know is that you don't choose your totem animal — your totem animal chooses you. Your totem animal will guide you and teach you on your spiritual journey.

Totem animals are significant in Native American culture.

Some Native American traditions say that each person is connected with nine different animals that will accompany him or her through life acting as guides.

It's also said that people will have a connection to about nine different animal guides throughout their lifetime, and the totem animal acts as the main guardian spirit.

The animal at the top of your nine-animal totem pole guides you in all aspects of your life: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Think of your totem animal as your "ride or die" who will never leave your side.

Certain Native American or Indigenous cultures believe that humans have a spiritual relationship with these animals. These beliefs originate from the Native American culture and the tradition of hunting and gathering. The totem serves as the emblem or symbol of a tribe, clan, family, or individual. 

Certain tribes would also change the names of their children throughout the entirety of their lives. They believed everyone's name needed to change during each stage of life, based on their experiences and accomplishments. 

If someone felt a strong connection with a specific animal(s) or saw the animal(s) in their dreams frequently, this was a hint of the totem animal group, and what their name would be during that period. 

How many animal totems are there?

There are too many out there to count; in fact, there are thousands of totem animals. However, you only have to worry about your nine. 

By Native American belief, you have a totem animal within each of the seven directions: north, south, west, east, above, below, and within yourself. The last two animals are believed to walk on either side of you:

North: Reminds us of gratitude, and when to listen and speak

South: Protects our inner-child

West: Promotes self-trust

East: Guides you to and through your greatest spiritual challenges

Above: Is in charge of your dream state and protects it against evils

Below: Keeps you in your lane and grounded

Within: Makes sure you're on a path that makes you happy

Right side: Protects your masculine characteristics

Left side: Protects your feminine characteristics

What is the difference between a totem animal and a spirit animal?

This is a common question. There is one distinct difference between totem animals and spirit animals: totem animals are guides who stay in your life throughout your spiritual journey, and who you can call on when in need of their spiritual help.

Then, there are spirit animals, also known as power animals, who come in and out of our lives, depending on the direction that we are headed. Spirit animals help us with the tasks that need to be completed along our journey while teaching us important life lessons.

How do you know your spirit animal?

There are several techniques to figuring out your spirit animal is. Pay attention to a specific animal appearing in your dreams or seeing one frequently in the waking world, and think about your past connections with animals.

If you see a particular animal coming up again and again, or you were especially close with your childhood pet, take note that this may be your spirit guide.

Why does your totem animal mean, and why is it important for you?

Even if you are non-Native, this doesn't mean you don't have a group of animals guiding you through life and pushing you in the right direction! It's important to not appropriate this culture, however.

It may feel overwhelming to engage with the very notion that an animal is helping you find your balance in the world. But this same concept is the reason why many of us find comfort in knowing who is helping us steer the ship. 

What is an example of a totem? For instance, maybe you always come across butterflies no matter where you are, or you might even have dreams of them. This is probably not a coincidence. Butterflies are symbolic of metamorphosis, or the ever-changing spirit of life.

What does this mean for you? Well, you may be a person who is constantly evolving themselves into their higher self, always constant in their walk toward their goals, and you might even be looked at by others as a sign that change is inevitable. 

No matter who you are, totem animals are here to elevate you to become the master of your own destiny. And who wouldn't want some of our favorite animals cheering us on every day?

RELATED: The Animal You See First In This Personality Test Reveals The Best Thing About You

List Of Totem Animals & Their Meanings 

There are hundreds if not thousands of totem animals, but this list includes some of the most popular or intriguing ones, along with their symbolic meaning:

Alligator: Quickness, great survival instincts, maternal

Ant: Group-minded, patient, purposeful

Armadillo: Trusting, reclusive, grounded

Bat: Secrecy, good listener, long life

Bear: Instinctive, power, courage

Bee: Industrial, productive, sweet

Bull: Fertility, raw expression, rushing into things

Butterfly: Transformation, balance, grace

Caribou: Sensitivity, guidance, surety

Cheetah: Swiftness, insight, focus

Cow: Joy, easy-going, patient

Cobra: Deceitful, full of energy, swift

Crane: Solitude, justice, longevity

Crow: Change, creativity, spiritual strength

Deer: Compassion, peace, intellectual

Dog: Loyal, teaching, protection

Dolphin: Playful, deep emotions, happy

Dove: Peace, gentleness, love

Dragon: Prosperity, wisdom, power

Eagle: Healing, creation, freedom

Elephant: Loyalty, family-oriented, wisdom.

Elk: Strength, agility, pride

Falcon: New beginnings, adventure, passion

Flamingo: Flirtatious, open-minded, people person

Fox: Cunning, agility, quick-witted

Gazelle: Awareness, speed, grace

Giraffe: Elegance, cleverness, beauty

Gorilla: Protector, peacemaker, family-oriented

Grasshopper: Good luck, progressive, virtuous

Hawk: Victory, healing, nobility

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Hippopotamus: Power, emotional depth, family-oriented

Horse: Freedom, stamina, grace

RELATED: Horse Spirit Animal Meaning & Symbolism

Hummingbird: Timelessness, healing, warrior

Jaguar: Chaos, aggressiveness, confidence

Lion: Family, strength, energy

Lizard: Self-protective, hidden defenses, shrewdness

Llama: Comforting to others, secure, responsible

Moose: Headstrong, longevity, steadfast

Octopus: Intelligent, great camouflage, nocturnal

Opossum: Smart, clever, sensible

Otter: Playful, friendly, dynamic

Owl: Wisdom, deception, intuition

Panther: Protector, cautious, multi-dimensional

Peacock: Immortality, dignity, self-confidence

Penguin: Self-discipline, order, purpose

Quail: Teamwork, protector, courage

Rabbit: Fertility, artistic, joyful

Rat: Scavenger, intelligent, goal-driven

Raven: Magical, introspective, self-realized

Salmon: Rebirth, determined, intense

Scorpion: Strong, inspiring, chaotic

Snake: Impulsive, shrewdness, rebirth

Tiger: Strength, valor, energy

Turtle: Nurturer, shy, strong

Weasel: Ingenuity, stealth, wild

Whale: Wisdom, awareness, navigator

Wolf: Loyalty, perseverance, success

Listen to your totem animal when they appear in your life, whether in reality or your dreams. Each animal holds a special spiritual meaning that will help you better understand your life and how you can be the best version of yourself.

RELATED: The Spirit Animal That Best Represents Your Zodiac Sign

Destiny Duprey is a writer who covers astrology, spirituality, love and relationships topics.